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Manhunt Continues for Suspect in Police Slaying

A Burbank shootout leaves a rookie officer dead and a 15-year veteran wounded.

November 17, 2003|Andrew Blankstein, Richard Fausset and Michael Krikorian | Times Staff Writers

A massive manhunt continued Sunday for a 19-year-old suspected of shooting two Burbank policemen the night before, wounding a 15-year veteran and killing a rookie, the first fatal shooting of an officer in the suburban department's 82-year history.

The slain officer, who died during surgery at a local hospital, was Matthew Pavelka, a 26-year-old who had come to the force 10 months ago after serving in the U.S. Air Force. The other officer, 41-year-old Gregory Campbell, remained hospitalized Sunday in stable condition.

The officers approached the two men Saturday night after they were spotted in a Cadillac Escalade without license plates or temporary registration. It was parked in a hotel lot "well-known to the Burbank Police Department for auto burglary, auto theft and narcotics activity," Police Chief Tom Hoefel said.

A gunfight ensued, and the officers shot and killed one man, 25-year-old Ramon Aranda of Sun Valley. The other suspect fled on foot, and remains at large.

Police identified him as David A. Garcia, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound Latino with brown eyes and a shaved head. He is known to frequent the Sun Valley area. Anyone with information on his whereabouts is asked to call Burbank police. Officers said he should be considered "armed and very dangerous."

"The suspect is a coldblooded murderer," Hoefel said at a news conference.

Pavelka, the son of a Los Angeles police detective, joined the Burbank department because he wanted his work to be judged on its own merits, said Det. Kathlyne Speirs.

Mike Pavelka, a 29-year veteran of the Valley Bureau's detective squad, said he and his wife felt relieved when their son chose to work in Burbank. "I felt the odds were in his favor," said Pavelka, 49.

"He always wanted to be a cop," said Robert Lewis, the father of Matthew Pavelka's ex-wife, Meredith. "There was no question."

Campbell, a Marine veteran, won a medal of valor at his former job in the Santa Paula Police Department.

Nearly all of the 170 officers in the Burbank Police Department helped in a search that had spread beyond the immediate vicinity of the incident after it became clear that the suspect probably had slipped out of the neighborhood.

"We can't get guys to go home," Speirs said. "I've been up over 24 hours. People will not leave the building."

Meanwhile, the community the officers served began offering condolences. By late afternoon, more than a dozen bouquets ringed a granite-and-bronze statue honoring the city's public safety personnel outside the police and fire headquarters.

"We are greatly saddened," one card read. "Our thoughts and prayers are with you."

Police said the incident began when Campbell spotted the men about 6:30 p.m. in the north parking lot of the Ramada Inn on North San Fernando Boulevard, near Burbank Airport.

Campbell asked Aranda, the driver, for his license and registration, Hoefel said. When Aranda could not produce them, Campbell called for backup.

Pavelka arrived almost immediately, and Campbell ordered the driver to get out of the vehicle.

"Soon thereafter, the driver and passenger opened fire on the officers," Hoefel said.

The police returned fire -- 15 rounds total -- but both officers were shot several times. The suspects, Hoefel said, each had two handguns and fired 30 rounds. The officers were wearing bulletproof vests, and no bullets penetrated them. Campbell was struck in the stomach and neck. Hoefel did not say where Pavelka was hit.

Later, when authorities searched the car, they found an assault rifle and three ounces of methamphetamine, Hoefel said.

After the shooting, police set up a large perimeter around the neighborhood, using K-9 patrols, a SWAT team and a helicopter in their search for Garcia. Law enforcement officers from six other state and local law enforcement agencies participated.

The Golden State Freeway was shut down for several hours in both directions between the Ventura and Hollywood freeways.

Nearly half of the 100-plus guests at the Ramada Inn who were out of the area at dinner time were not allowed to return to their rooms Saturday night, and some slept in their cars, said Shawn Todd, the hotel night auditor.

By late Sunday morning, however, police were "pretty sure" the suspect was no longer in the area and had begun sending teams to other locations to look for him, following tips from phone calls and other sources, said Sgt. Will Berry, a Burbank police spokesman.

"We're pretty much casting a wider net," Berry said.

Pavelka's death was a gut-wrenching event for the relatively small department.

In 1920, one year before the department was founded, a city marshal, Robert L. Normand, was shot and killed by three men he arrested for allegedly robbing a local store.

"There is not one officer currently on the department who was here the last time we lost an officer," Berry said. "It's a very young department, and they're really taking it hard. It's very difficult for us."

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